This was the first time Darrell, Sandra and family had met Seraphina Nightingale and they were initially very impressed. ‘She’s gorgeous!’ they crooned, after we had coaxed her out from behind the couch, exclaiming over her shiny coat, her distinctive markings, her delicate pansy face and noble bearing. They had just spent an exorbitant sum on a ragdoll kitten from a breeder and could scarcely believe we had picked Fina up from a shelter.
I’ve never been a fan of breeders, particularly when there are so many deserving animals in need of homes already, so took the opportunity of highlighting Fina’s good points to them. Given that they had opted for a ragdoll breed themselves, they obviously valued limpness in cats, so I dwelt particularly on her meek, compliant nature: ‘She’s very placid, very docile – she’ll sit on your lap all evening and just purr away.’ Fina chose this particular moment to sink her teeth into Darrell’s hand. ‘Umm, she doesn’t normally do that,’ I said, embarrassed. ‘She’s usually very affectionate. ’ She bit him twice more, drawing blood.
To his credit, Darrell took it quite well, offering diplomatic excuses for her savagery, while Richard went to get bandages and disinfectant from the medicine cupboard: ‘No, no, it’s my fault. I intruded into her personal space – I should have let her come to me when she felt comfortable.’
As if on cue, Fina sidled up to Sandra, winding herself around her legs, then leapt lightly on to her lap and began to purr. Sandra began to stroke her tentatively. For a few minutes, a cosy silence pervaded the room. Everyone started to smile and look charmed again and coo in that soft, slightly dim-witted voice usually reserved for babies and spouses.
‘She’s beginning to settle down now,’ I ventured, ‘this is more like her usual self.’ Then, without warning, Fina turned around and bit Sandra. When Sandra cried out, she indignantly swiped out at her, claws unleashed.
Richard again left the room for medical supplies. ‘She’s a bit unsettled. Probably better not to bother her,’ I said, conveniently forgetting the fact that it was Fina who had approached Sandra. ‘Umm, maybe we should just eat.’
We gave the kids their dinner then sent them into the spare room to watch a DVD. I cautioned them to bar the door behind me when I left: if I or another adult wanted to come in, we would knock three times and imitate the call of a mopoke, I explained. They should not open the door for any other reason – especially if they heard frantic scrabbling sounds or miaowing. I handed them a baseball bat before I left. ‘Just in case things don’t go as planned,’ I said cryptically.
Somewhat on edge, the rest of us sat down to eat in the dining room. We tried to focus on the meal: a leek and lemon risotto* with garden salad, followed by gelato and fresh strawberries for dessert. It was hard though, what, with the cat carrying on in the background.
Staunchly refusing to face up to reality, I gaily chattered away about the advantages of owning a cat: ‘They’re so much easier to look after than dogs – they’re so self-contained. They just do their own thing.’ Meanwhile, Richard plied everyone with wine in a desperate attempt to take their mind off their injuries and prevent them from noticing Fina ‘doing her own thing’ in the background.
In a shameless display of unmitigated savagery, she tore her all of toys apart with her teeth, including her favourite, Mousey. ‘She doesn’t normally do that,’ I repeatedly apologised, each time sounding less and less convincing. Every so often, she’d launch an offensive on someone’s shins: creeping up purposefully with her eyes narrowed and ears flattened back against her skull. The Madeleine Peyroux CD could not wholly drown out the sound of her flagrantly scritching her claws on the sofa, exposing the yellow foam inside as she prepared for some hideous finale to the evening.
Of course, she timed the climax perfectly: as we finished the last spoonfuls of our dessert, in true gladiatorial style she decapitated Krinkletoy in the middle of the rug.
‘She doesn’t normally….’ I began one final time as our guests looked on in mute horror.
‘Probably a good thing we went to a breeder,’ concluded Darrell.
*Leek & Lemon Risotto Recipe
- 60 gms butter
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed
- 3 leeks, sliced
- 6 bay leaves
- Few sprigs of fresh thyme
- 3 cups arborio rice
- I cup white wine (whatever’s in the fridge will do)
- Vegetable stock – around 5 cups, but may differ depending on the brand of rice you use
- 1 lemon, grated rind and juice
- 2 cups mushrooms, sliced
- Handful of walnuts
- ¼ cup low fat cream
- Salt and pepper
- 100 gms parmesan (plus extra for serving)
- Chopped parsley (to garnish)
- Melt 50 gms of butter in a pan with 3 tbsp olive oil. Add garlic and leeks and saute until soft – about 10 mins.
- Add the bay leaves, thyme and rice. Stir for a minute until the rice is glossy.
- Add the wine and stir until absorbed.
- Add the stock, about half a cup at a time, stirring constantly until absorbed. Continue until the rice is creamy, and the grains are still firm yet not starchy (around 20 minutes.)
- Add the lemon juice and rind and salt and pepper to taste. Stir for a few minutes. Meanwhile, heat the remaining butter and oil in a pan and saute mushrooms and walnuts until mushroom are soft.
- Add mushrooms and walnuts to risotto. Stir through, along with cream and parmesan.
- Serve garnished with parmesan and parsley.